California Environmental Law and Policy Update - May 2014


Environmental and Policy Focus

California drought: plan would reverse aqueduct flow to send water back to farms

San Jose Mercury News - May 8

Water has flowed from Northern California's snow-capped peaks to the south's parched cities ever since the California Aqueduct was built in the 1960s. Now, amid one of the worst droughts in history, state officials are considering an audacious plan to send some of the water back uphill. State water engineers say using pumps to reverse the flow of the aqueduct would be a first in a drought. It would also be a complex engineering challenge, requiring millions of dollars to defy gravity. Still, water agencies in the desperately dry farmlands around Bakersfield say the investment is worth it to keep grapevines, pistachios, and pomegranate trees alive. Agencies as far north as the San Francisco Bay Area are talking about a similar project. The plan the department is evaluating was drawn up by five of the local agencies, or districts, that sell irrigation water to farmers. They would bear the cost of the project, which they have estimated at $1.5 million to $9.5 million. They hope to get approval from the state in June and start pushing the water uphill later in the summer. Long celebrated as an engineering marvel, the California Aqueduct is a 420-mile system of open canals and massive pipelines that serves millions of Californians, including those in the state's biggest population centers: the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Supreme Court’s denial of review preserves environmentalists’ victory in urban runoff case

Los Angeles Times - May 5

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to review a long-running Los Angeles County case, handing a victory to environmentalists in a battle over polluted urban runoff that impairs Southern California's coastal waters. The justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling that held the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and the County liable for storm water pollution flowing into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers from the region's sprawling storm drain system. The NRDC and the environmental group Los Angeles Waterkeeper sued the County in 2008, arguing that it was violating water-quality standards in its storm water permit. The County countered that it was not the source of pollution, which originates from thousands of sources all over the Los Angeles Basin. The high court's action does not end the case, however, which will now go back to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to decide which entities are legally responsible for the subject discharges and what remedies to impose. Already, cities are adopting low-impact development rules that require large new projects to retain runoff on-site and let it seep into ground. The County and cities are considering construction of regional infiltration basins to collect runoff to recharge aquifers. They also will encourage the use of green infrastructure, such as using permeable paving in parking lots at schools and other public facilities.

Lawsuit targets San Francisco’s tech shuttle buses

KTVU - May 1

A lawsuit filed against the city of San Francisco seeks to block the use of commuter shuttle buses at Municipal Railway bus stops, arguing that the practice is illegal and that the city's plan to charge companies a fee for the use of the bus stops sidestepped state-mandated environmental analysis. A coalition of labor and housing activists filed the suit over concerns that the shuttle buses are causing an influx of highly paid workers from the Silicon Valley area into the city, driving up rents and housing costs, the group said. The lawsuit comes after the city's Board of Supervisor's rejected opponents' appeal of the approval of an 18-month pilot program by the SFMTA to charge companies providing private shuttle services $1 per stop for use of the city's public bus stops. The appeal sought an environmental impact report for the plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The SFMTA board of directors had previously found that the pilot shuttle bus program was exempt from CEQA requirements because the 18-month program is for fact-finding. According to the SFMTA, more than 35,000 private shuttle boardings occur each day in San Francisco. As part of the program, which currently is set to go into effect July 1, the agency will allow the private shuttles to use about 200 selected bus stop locations around the city. Google, which according to the city sponsors about 57 shuttle buses per day in San Francisco, has previously said that the program saves more than 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of taking about 4,000 cars off the road each day.

Controversial pipeline project in the Mojave Desert surges forward

San Bernardino County Sun - May 2

In a ruling last week, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler rejected all six challenges to the environmental review and approvals for the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. The project will divert surplus groundwater from the Fenner Valley, about 40 miles northeast of Twentynine Palms and south of the Mojave National Preserve, to the Colorado River Aqueduct. The groundwater will then be sold to other water agencies for municipal and industrial use. The plan proposes pumping 50,000 to 75,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from the aquifer during the project’s 50-year projected lifespan. Delaware Tetra Technologies and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the petitions challenging the project’s environmental approvals and groundwater management plan and other environmental groups joined in the litigation. Among their arguments was that the Santa Margarita Water District in Rancho Santa Margarita was not the proper lead agency for the project, and that the project’s environmental impact report did not include a proper project description. They also argued there was an inadequate analysis of the potential impacts to the water supply, air quality, and biological resources. The court's ruling rejected each of those arguments.

EPA considers stricter disclosure on hydraulic fracturing fluids

Reuters - May 9

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it wants to gather public comment on whether it should require chemical manufacturers to disclose the content of fluids used for oil and gas production, a possible step toward greater federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing. The agency on Friday released an "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking" that came partly as a response to a petition by the environmental group Earthjustice under a section of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The group had asked the EPA to require chemical manufacturers and processors to publish detailed information about the content of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing. It also requested that those companies submit all health and safety studies available on those fluid mixtures. Hydraulic fracturing is regulated on a state-by-state basis and currently does not face significant federal oversight. The oil industry has in recent years become more transparent about the mix of chemicals and fluids they use to hydraulically fracture thousands of wells across the country, disclosure of which is already required in many of the biggest oil and gas producing states. But environmental groups like Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council seek stricter oversight. The EPA had denied other parts of Earthjustice's 2011 petition, including a request for companies to conduct toxicity tests on hydraulic fracturing liquids.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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